CAMPESINOS FIGHT AGAINST GM SOY - PARAGUAY

9.10.2008
Farmers occupy large Brazilian-owned farms to block the entry of genetically-modified soy.

Campesinos in the department of San Pedro occupied Brazilian-owned farms on Oct. 1 to block the entry of transgenic soy, and began planting other crops such as sesame and yucca on the plots.

Some 120 campesinos occupied two 600-hectare (1,480 acre) farms, according to local media reports.

Cristino Peralta, the San Pedro correspondent of the daily ABC Color, said that the farmers immediately began planting the sesame and yucca after occupying the plantations.

”There was no law enforcement intervention,” he said. ”The group´s leader Florencio Martínez said that the occupation marked the start of the recovery of Paraguayan territorial sovereignty.”

San Pedro is considered Paraguay´s best farmland, but it is also the country´s poorest department. President Fernando Lugo worked as a bishop there for a decade.

Land is concentrated in the fewest hands in Paraguay than in any other Latin American country. Only 351 landowners hold 9.7 million hectares (24 million acres), while, according to civil society organizations, there are more than 350,000 families with insufficient quantities of land or no land at all.

The demonstrators said that they took over the Brazilian-owned plantations in protest of what they called the government´s failure to implement land reform. Paraguay has also seen other campesino protests against transgenic soy plantations and the indiscriminate use of farming chemicals.

Lugo had requested that the campesinos give his government 100 days starting Aug. 15 to seek financing for land reform. The period ends on Nov. 22.

According to campesino leader Elvio Benítez, the government ”continues without finding a solution to the lack of land of thousands of our compatriots, while the Brazilians´ presence is getting bigger and bigger. We can´t do anything else but occupy the Brazilian-owned haciendas because the soy crops are causing deforestation, eliminating natural forests and contaminating people with its pesticides.”